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NY Jets Friday Spotlight: Sheldon Richardson

With Mo Wilkerson out Sheldon needs to step up.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Friday Spotlight.  Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week.  Today's player in the spotlight is Sheldon Richardson.

Sheldon Richardson, a 6' 3", 295 pound defensive lineman out of the University of Missouri, was drafted by the Jets with the 13th overall selection in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.  With great strength, extraordinary quickness and agility for a man his size, great leverage and as good a motor for a defensive lineman as you'll ever see, Richardson has the ideal makeup of a 34 defensive lineman.  He is capable of playing tackle or end and he can and will line up anywhere.

Richardson was an instant sensation as a rookie, dominating matchups on the line of scrimmage, routinely blowing up running plays, running down guys from behind and generally impressing at every turn.  He capped a stellar year by winning the NFL Defensive Rookie Of the Year Award.

Here are Richardson's statistics for the first two years of his career.





Passes Defended

Forced Fumbles














Coming into the 2014 season the hopes and expectations for Richardson in his second year were sky high.  Pro Bowl honors,  maybe even All Pro honors, were not unreasonable goals.  After dominating in the run game in 2013, many expected Richardson, with his preternatural quickness and explosiveness off the line, to progress into a force as a pass rusher.  Jets fans salivated at the prospect of Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson destroying opposing quarterbacks with a relentless pass rush game after game.  It has not worked out that way.

Richardson has been a bit of a disappointment in his sophomore season.  While he has certainly still been a good player, he has failed to take the next step as a dominant defensive lineman.  His tackles are down, his sacks have not  picked up much, his pass rushing techniques are only marginally better.  In short, Richardson still is a very good player, but it is difficult to see much in the way of improvement.

Lately things have taken a turn for the worse for Sheldon.  Over the last seven games Richardson has just 0.5 sacks.  He hasn't had more than five tackles in a game since October 26 (this for a man who averaged nearly five tackles per game last year), and he has had only one tackle in each of his last two games.  Richardson just is not having the same kind of impact on games this year.   Unfortunately for the Jets, the defensive line is nearly the only source of excellence on the team, so when a guy like Sheldon takes a step back, the team falls off a cliff.  The Jets' defense may be 7th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, but it is 25th in the NFL in points allowed per game, and not all of that can be laid at the feet of the offense's turnovers and general ineptitude.  This defense has given up 24 points or more in nine of 12 games this year.  That is not the record of a stellar defense, no matter how inept the offense may be.  With little talent in the back seven, the burden for changing that falls mainly on the defensive front four.  With Muhammad Wilkerson out, Richardson needs to step up and take over a game or two.

Sunday's matchup with the Vikings provides the perfect opportunity for Richardson to break out of his recent doldrums.  The Vikings have a porous offensive line that has given up 37 sacks this season, more than three per game, fifth most in the NFL.  The Jets haven't had more than two sacks in a game since October 26th.   Now would be a great time for Sheldon to break out of his seven game slump and register a sack or two while putting pressure on Vikings' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater all game long.

The Vikings do not have a great running game, and their best running back, Jerrick McKinnon, has a back injury and may not suit up.  The Jets front seven should be able to effectively limit the Vikings' rushing attack.  If Richardson and the rest of the Jets pass rush can get to Bridgewater repeatedly, this sets up as a game the Jets defense might dominate for a change.  With the Jets' offense struggling mightily and rarely scoring as much as 20 points in a game, the only path to victory is defensive dominance.  With Wilkerson out, that dominance starts with the Jets best remaining defensive player, Sheldon Richardson.   Richardson needs to start playing like the star he is supposed to be  if the Jets are to have any chance to win.

This is the time for Sheldon Richardson to excel.  This is an opportunity tailor made for a breakout performance from Richardson, a chance to show why he is touted as perhaps the Jets most talented player.   If we see Richardson resume being a force in the running game, make tackles  all over the field and be a generally disruptive force in both the pass defense and the run defense, then perhaps there is hope the Jets can pull off a rare road win against the Vikings.   If on the other hand we see Richardson continue to disappoint, disappear in the pass rush and take the rest of the Jets' defense with him, the Jets have little chance of winning their third game of the year on Sunday.  Either way, Richardson should prove to be a pivotal player in this game.   This is Sheldon Richardson's time in the spotlight.  Let's hope he shines come Sunday afternoon.